My visit to an Early Childhood Development Centre in Uganda

Tuesday 31 July 2018

Our global Humanitarian Education Advisor Mary Greer reflects on a recent visit to our refugee response in western Uganda

Uganda is now Africa’s largest host country, with over 1.4 million refugees seeking safety and a future there. Last week I visited one of the Early Childhood Development Centres and Child Friendly Spaces that Save the Children supports with the Children’s Emergency Fund (CEF).

Kyangwali is a large refugee settlement, spread across green hills as far as the eye can see, home to tens of thousands of people – new arrivals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), host communities living side by side with refugees, and communities from DRC and South Sudan who have lived in the area for years.

Since Uganda’s policy is one of settlement and integration, there are no uniform rows of identical white UNHCR tents here. Instead, new arrivals from DRC are spread out across a large rural area, in makeshift huts and tukuls.

Government schools are hugely overcrowded as new influxes of school age children enrol in the few services that already existed in the area. Save the Children and the handful of INGOs that operate in Kyangwali do their best, but struggle to establish enough new services to meet the needs of the growing population. Save the Children runs 12 Early Childhood and Accelerated Education centres in this settlement. With donor funds thin on the ground, staff are juggling the many demands on their time, and stretching the limited resources as far as they can.

I visited Maritatu Centre, where donations from the UK public to the Children’s Emergency Fund enabled Save the Children to upgrade one temporary tent to a permanent block of two large activity spaces and an office for facilitators and case workers. On the day I visited, construction had just finished, and staff were eager to equip the spaces and begin to hold activities for 3-6 year olds there. Save the Children’s facilitators and case workers include mothers from the refugee community, men and women who were teachers in their home countries, and young Ugandan graduates. Together they are working to support the wellbeing, learning and development of the children who visit the centre.

There was excitement in the air as boys and girls gathered at the gates of the centre ready for the afternoon shift to begin.

For anyone that has visited a camp for refugees or Internally Displaced People, and has been inside a classroom, clinic or child friendly space inside a tent, I don’t need to describe how very temporary they feel.

While tents are quick and relatively cheap to establish in an emergency, it doesn’t take long before they become mouldy from the humidity or damaged by wind and rain. A tent in the midday equatorial sun is by no means a conducive environment for young children. The difference a good quality and well-designed space like those constructed in Kyangwali can make, is huge. It was a pleasure to meet with the facilitators who will be working there, and to witness the impact that the CEF is making in Uganda.